This is the second post in our "What Being Pro-Life Means to Me" series! What does being pro-life mean to you? Over this fall, we'll hear various writers respond to that question. Learn more and subscribe for weekly email updates.
“Why are they doing this to us?” I will never forget when an individual with several disabilities posed this question to me. At that time in October 2013, I was working as a direct support professional in a 12-bed adult foster care home. She asked me this because she had been watching the news and heard that the federal government was cutting food assistance benefits, which she and her housemates used to put food on the table. I was frustrated and disappointed about the situation with her.
I didn’t know how to respond to her question. Do I tell her politicians think she can live without the $10 per month that they are cutting? Do I tell her the government is increasingly failing her? Looking back now, I don’t think I ever gave her a satisfactory answer. I will forever remember asking myself, “What are we doing to them?”
In recent months, the polarizing topic of abortion has resurfaced into mainstream discussion. While self-proclaimed pro-life advocates are right to plead with people to “choose life”, many make the mistake of not answering the question that the slogan begs, “...and then what?” What happens after a mother who is scared to bring a child into the world gives birth? Will she have the necessary support to help her and her child flourish, or will her life and her child’s lives be excruciatingly difficult? Many pro-life advocates often mistakenly focus more on being pro-birth than being pro-life. What does it mean to be pro-life then?
In a survey by the Guttmacher Institute, a sizeable percentage of women who sought an abortion responded that they did so because of possible problems affecting the health of the fetus. These potential health problems could be many types of diagnoses, from cystic fibrosis to mental retardation to Down’s syndrome. In fact, it has been estimated that between 60% and 90% of prenatal Down’s syndrome diagnoses result in abortion.
Some of the individuals I loved the most in my direct support position had Down’s. Their affection for others was infectious; I can’t even count the number of requests for hugs I received. Their smiles were adorable and made each work day brighter. Their comments were hilarious and kept me on my toes. Yet, between 60% and 90% of prenatal Down’s syndrome diagnoses result in abortion. Imagine what the world would be like with more people who have Down’s? But, as with everything in this present life, there are costs...
From a potential parent’s perspective, if I’m being honest, if I knew my child was going to have a disability that would cause them to struggle throughout their rest of their life, that they would have a shortened lifespan, that they would be bullied at school because they were different...would I be eager to bring them into the world?
And how would I pay for their medical care? Would I be able to keep a job and care for them? What if taking care of them was too much for me and I had to place them in a home with people who have similar needs? Could I trust other people to look after my child? I imagine these are all questions parents who receive prenatal diagnoses for their children ask themselves. Without community support, these parents’ lives would change drastically. Fortunately, a system exists to assist individuals with disabilities and their families, which has the possibility to ease these pressures...but unfortunately, it is a system that is continually wearing thin.
As I look around from my current administrative position, the same smiling faces and infectious laughs give me a renewed sense of purpose every day. However, at the same time, I see just how difficult it is to keep a non-profit afloat in the midst of ongoing government funding cuts, ever-changing standards, and high staff turnover rates due to imbalances between compensation and responsibilities.
A field that has so much potential to make a positive difference in people’s lives is becoming increasingly inadequate. And it’s not because the caregivers don’t care, but because we are still pushing individuals with disabilities to the margins by directing our attention elsewhere. The question “What are we doing to them?” still echoes in my head two years later.
So what does pro-life mean to me?
To me, being pro-life is about more than being pro-birth.
It means seeing the possibilities for the entirety of each person’s life, from conception to death.
It means focussing on the individual and empowering her to be the best, most whole version of herself.
It means seeing the potential in every human being, from the unborn fetus to the developmentally disabled child or adult.
It means treating each person with dignity and respect because God has created us all in his image.
It means including and enfolding all people, regardless of ability or any other characteristic, into the life of the community.
It means creating and sustaining just, adequately funded systems that provide support for and allow all people to flourish and be valued.
Admittedly, this is a lofty goal in a world marred by sin, but as Christ’s followers we are called to build God’s kingdom here while we wait for him to make all things new and set all things right. If we say we are pro-life, we must be consistently pro-life--from conception to life’s final breath. We must follow our values and assume responsibility to care for, provide support for, and ensure the flourishing of all human beings. What more can we do for both the unborn and the marginalized to show that we are truly pro-life, not only pro-birth?
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[Image: Flickr user Andrea]